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Pacific leader says migrant exploitation should not be a ‘political issue’

29 September, 2023

Interview by Rawan Saadi, adapted by Athena Li-Watts

Aotearoa Tongan Response Group organiser and community leader, Manase Lua, says certain political parties are using Pasifika migrant workers as a political football.

If re-elected, Labour has pledged to grant one-off amnesty to migrant workers who have found themselves in situations where they have overstayed their visas, allowing them a pathway to New Zealand residency, but only if they have been in the country for more than 10 years.

National has said it would not support amnesty for migrant workers in any capacity.

Aotearoa Tongan Response Group organiser and community leader, Manase Lua, told 95bFM’s The Wire, that he is disappointed Labour had the opportunity to make this change while in government but instead chose to make migrant exploitation an election issue.

“You have to vote for them for it to come into place.”

According to Lua, the majority of migrant workers come to Aotearoa for a better life and do jobs most New Zealanders do not want. 

He argued that migrant workers and their families should be afforded the same rights, responsibilities, and opportunities as everyone else.

“There is definitely something wrong with an immigration system that does not have a heart, especially for communities who help build our economy.”

Lua highlighted that during Covid-19, Pacific borders were shut, which meant many Pasifika and other migrant workers could not leave Aotearoa, even if they wanted to, leaving them vulnerable to exploitative working conditions. 

“Because of the pandemic, people could not go back home. You have people who have been here for over three years, through no fault of their own.”

He said because of this, children of migrant workers living here are also suffering. 

“Many do well in high school, only to discover they cannot apply to university due to their parents overstaying.”

“There are apparently 1000 children of overstayers in this situation. I would argue that they are the most innocent party here, it was not their decision to be in this country without legal rights.”

Despite the government’s apology for the Dawn Raids of the 1970s in 2021, a recent King’s Council report revealed modern dawn raids were occurring in South Auckland. 

Lua, who was affected by the Dawn Raids as a child, said he questions the sincerity of the government's apology. 

 “It was a harrowing time for Pasifika and we have not forgotten it.”

“People of colour are still being targeted for deportation. The numbers show that the vast majority are people of colour: Polynesians, Pacific Islanders, and Asian migrants are usually the ones targeted.”

Lua said Aotearoa has neglected Pasifika communities for generations and calls for “common sense, simple, and fair” immigration policies that work for our migrant communities. 

“We are making it harder for them to settle here. They have to jump through hoops, fill in a million forms, and do all this bureaucratic stuff that takes time and money with no valid pathway to residency.”

He accused certain political parties of using Pasifika as a political football.

“They are mobilising a base that is anti-Pacific, anti-immigration, and anti anything that does not look like them.”

The Aotearoa Tongan Response group organised a peaceful march on Saturday, 30 September, on Franklin Road, Ponsonby, from 10am-1pm.

Lua invites “anyone in the community who supports freedom, peace, forgiveness, and anti-racism” to join. 

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air